If your house was built between 1850 and 1920, chances are it is one form or another of Victorian architecture. Detailed gingerbread woodwork, bold brackets and enormous shutters beg for a color scheme that will complement their detail. When choosing paint colors, historic homeowners (that’s an old house, not necessarily an old homeowner!) should try to stay true to the historical nature of the home. An Italianate Victorian built in 1855 would have a much different color scheme than a Queen Anne built in 1895.
Luckily for homeowners, Sherwin Williams (type ‘Victorian’ in their search browser) has a great selection of historical paint colors available in easy-to-determine available catalogs.
In Victorian times, natural earth-tone colors were favored, as a result of Victorian homeowners’ fascination with nature. White was rarely used- more common were shades of green, brown, red, and mustard. The “Painted Ladies” of San Francisco are often found in more vibrant tones of purple, pink, and mauve, but the true Victorian-era homes were originally painted in much more natural tones.
You are going to be looking at these colors for a long time. Pay attention to colors of surrounding houses, your roof color, etc. Consider all the combinations of colors, dark and light and different shades of the same color- remember that darker paint colors will fade over time in sunlight.
Look Before You Leap
It’s a great idea to purchase a sample container of a few colors and paint a few boards on the house so you can determine which earth tones will look best. Tiny paint samples in a brochure are hard to imagine on an entire house and you might find the shades look very different in daylight.
Buy The Bucket
Paint companies will usually offer discounts on larger quantities of paint. Once you have chosen your colors, you can buy them in five gallon buckets (which can even be refilled), thus making your project more environmentally friendly and avoiding rusty paint cans lying around.
There are several books that can be extremely helpful to homeowners of Victorian homes, or even owners of “Neo-Victorians” which are modern homes built to resemble late 19th century architecture. The following books are highly recommended for homeowners who wish to paint their Victorian homes in authentic historical paint schemes.
- America’s Painted Ladies, Pomada, Elizabeth, et.al. (Studio, 1994)
- Victorian Exterior Decoration: How to Paint Your 19th Century American House Historically, Moss, Roger & WInkler, Gail Caskey (Henry Holt, 1987)
- Authentic Color Schemes for Victorian Houses Comstock’s Modern House Painting, 1883, Rossiter, E. K. & Wright , F.A. (Dover Publications, 2001)
Whatever paint colors you choose, your home will benefit from choosing natural Victorian earth tones that complement its detailed, well-balanced architecture.
The house in the photo is a Second Empire Victorian. The Sherwin Williams colors used were Rookwood Antique Gold on the siding, Rookwood Dark Red on the shutters, and Rookwood Shutter Green on the trim.